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IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Accomplish the amazing in #140charactersorless
The Second In a Series of White Papers From
FATHOM ONLINE MARKETING
5 Powerful Ways to Use Twitter in Higher Education
Accomplishing the Amazing in #140charactersorless
By Dustin Brady
When Twitter was introduced to the public in 2006, it had a lot going against it. First of all, its name was “Twitter.” It’s difficult to take a website seriously when all its users seem to do is “tweet” their musings on everyday life. Second, many people didn’t get what it does. If it’s possible to post a status on Facebook, why limit yourself to 140 characters on Twitter? And isn’t Twitter all about celebrities telling us what they had for lunch? Despite those initial misconceptions, Twitter has grown to become one of the top 10 most-visited websites with 65 million tweets each day.1 So either a whole lot of people are interested in Ashton Kutcher’s chicken salad or Twitter is much more than a passing fad. While Twitter has become one of the most powerful tools in the social media world, many schools are missing out on its value because they still don’t understand exactly how it should be used. Through this white paper, you’ll learn five powerful ways to use Twitter in higher education; but first, it is important to understand what Twitter is not:
Many schools have grown frustrated with Twitter because they’ve made the mistake of using it like Facebook Lite. To them, Twitter is only useful for posting 140-character status updates and a few links. While Twitter and Facebook share a number of similarities, they are distinct in enough ways to make Twitter far more valuable for certain applications. Through this white paper, we will look closer into these distinctions to draw out Twitter’s value.
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Thoughts, comments or questions about this paper? Continue the discussion on Twitter in higher education by using the hashtag #hetweet
A Popularity Contest
Number of followers is the only metric many schools use to measure success on Twitter. While it can be easy to fixate on this number since it’s one of the first things you’ll see when checking your profile, it’s important to realize that number of followers has almost nothing to do with real success. “Followers on Twitter is a loose metric,” said Mark Greenfield, Director of Web Services at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “If I wanted 10,000 followers, I could make that happen. On Twitter, it’s more about the quality of your interactions than your number of followers.” 1
Driven by Teenagers
Why hasn’t Twitter taken off as a recruiting tool? According to 2010 statistics, 11 percent of Facebook’s 500 million users are between the ages of 13 and 17, translating to around 35 million teenage Facebook users. According to those same statistics, only 4 percent of Twitter’s active users are teenagers. Since there are currently about 106 million users on Twitter, 4 percent translates to only 4.2 million high-schoolers.2 High-schoolers and undergrads simply aren’t using Twitter as much as they use Facebook. This doesn’t make Twitter any less relevant, it simply means that you may have to adjust your goals and target a slightly different audience.
On Twitter, it’s more about the quality
of your interactions than your number of followers.
1. Listen and Reply
How to Use Twitter
By talking to schools across the country and following some of higher education’s best tweeters, we discovered five important things every college and university should be doing with Twitter. How is your school doing?
If your school is not active on Twitter, start by simply listening. Use Twitter or a solution like CoTweet, TweetDeck or HootSuite to search for the name of your school and find out what people are saying about you. You’ll quickly discover that there’s more conversation going on about your school than you thought. Bringing the results of your searches to administration is a great way to get buyin for your social media initiatives. When they see what kind of conversation is already going on, it’s hard to justify staying silent.
After you feel comfortable listening on Twitter, it’s time to start participating in the conversation. If an applicant expresses excitement about your college, send them a reply sharing their excitement. If someone has a question or complaint, do your best to solve their problem as soon as possible, even on the weekend. In today’s world, great customer service can seem a rarity. If you can use Twitter to go beyond their expectations, it’s easy to make a long-term impression. What kind of value does this quick reaction have? The best answer to this question comes from Lori Packer, Assistant Director of Public Relations at the University of Rochester. “I really don’t know how to measure the value of a tweet. What I do know is that the Web is where people make connection and that’s not going away any time soon. If we get better at making connections online, our efforts will pay off.” In tomorrow’s world, instant communication will be expected. Instead of spending months devel2
oping guidelines about how every tweet should be handled, just start tweeting. Provide the best service possible for your users and results will come.
2. Introduce Real People at Your School
• • • • • They are looking for a benefit (coupon, deal, etc.) They are looking for information They want customer service They want entertainment They want a relationship
People generally follow others on Twitter for one of five reasons:
“Logo tweets,” or tweets from a brand, are good at three of these tasks: Offering information, offering benefits and providing customer service. Unfortunately, people aren’t following your school on Twitter because they want to be your best friend. They don’t want to have conversations and they don’t want to get to know you. They’re looking for answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and information about your school. “People identify with people, not logos or organizations,” said Karlyn Morissette, staff writer for .eduGuru. If you want to use Twitter to interact on a personal level, you’re not going to have much success through your “logo” account. It’s a great idea to humanize your logo tweets by including a picture Read our first two white papers: and a brief bio of the person who runs the account, but that alone isn’t enough to develop real Overarching Social Media Strategy relationships. Facebook in Higher Education To get the most out of Twitter, it’s time to change the way our schools think about social media. Social media is not the responsibility of one person or one office. It’s everybody’s responsibility. Logos don’t build relationships. People build relationships. By nature, social media lends itself much better to a decentralized approach. “Managing social media from a single office isn’t going to happen; and by trying, you’ll just stifle enthusiasm,” said Mark Greenfield. “Instead of having a single person manage social media, it’s much more practical to coordinate it.” Your school is full of people who are doing amazing things and have interesting things to say. If those people aren’t on Twitter, they should be. While it’s difficult to change the minds of professors and administrators who are set in their ways, consider lunch-and-learn sessions to educate people about Twitter. Not everyone will embrace Twitter, but some will, and that is a start. As you convince more faculty, staff, administration, coaches and alumni to tweet, you’ll notice a shift in the culture. Social media will start becoming more about the conversation than the message. Instead of encouraging people to learn more about your school, you’ll be able to introduce them to all the interesting people at your college. 3
3. Participate in the Backchannel
Remember when you were in school and you had a snarky comment about something the teacher said? Wasn’t it frustrating to hold that comment until after class? Now, thanks to Twitter, the conversation has expanded, and it’s going on in real time, all the time. This backchannel can include a couple dozen students in a seminar, thousands of alumni at homecoming, or millions of people around the globe during an international event. Any event at your school, no matter how small, likely has an online backchannel. The question is, are you participating? The first step to participating in the backchannel is creating a hashtag (#) for every event at your school. This hashtag will make it easy for people to follow the conversaPlease tag your homecoming tion, comment, contribute content or ask questions. By combining 2010 tweets with the a Twitter hashtag with a live online stream of the event, it’s posfollowing hashtag: #jcuhc sible to attract a worldwide audience for a tiny on-campus event. It’s important to remember that your hashtag holds little value useless you promote it. If nobody knows where the conversation is taking place, they’ll simply start their own. Learn from schools like John Carroll University, where the Web service department recently set up a page that assembled all the tweets and pictures tagged with the homecoming hashtag. When promoting homecoming events, the school also promoted the hashtag and ended up with plenty of online activity both from users who were attended on-campus events and alumni who followed homecoming in real time despite not making it to campus. After creating the backchannel, the next step is to interact with it. Consider Higher Ed Live, a weekly online show hosted by UCLA’s Seth Odell. Every week, Odell interviews higher education leaders from around the country, covering a wide range of topics from social media to Web accessibility. Recently, the show had one of its biggest in-studio audiences – two people squeezed into Odell’s living room. Yet, every week, dozens of people participate in the show in real time thanks to the Twitter hashtag #higheredlive. Viewers use the hashtag to talk among themselves, comment on the conversation and submit questions to the show. Odell does a great job of following the backchannel and addressing issues that the audience brings up. What events can your school live stream? The cost for opening up performances, seminars and discussions to an online audience is next to nothing, especially compared to the value of the community it creates. 4
4. Information Updates
Few industries have been impacted by Twitter like the news media. Today, breaking a news story has become as simple as typing a 140-character message into the nearest cell phone. As a result, our society has come to expect instantaneous news. When news breaks at your campus, it’s important to start tweeting updates immediately. Your updates will get picked up by news outlets, allowing you to distribute the right message before the press conference even starts. If you haven’t done so yet, follow the lead of schools like UCLA and set up a newsroom Twitter profile dedicated exclusively to distributing news. Make it a policy to break news through this profile, and you’ll end up with much less headache during big news events. “While Twitter can be a social platform on a user-to-user level, it can see even more success as an old-fashioned broadcast model,” Seth Odell said. “A lot of schools want Twitter to be super social; but sometimes, people just want to have our news in their feed.”
One of Twitter’s most popular hashtags, #FF, stands for Follow Friday. Every Friday, millions of people recommend great Twitter feeds. During our interviews, we asked social media practitioners for their favorite tweeters. Here’s what we found: Featured in This Paper: @markgr – Mark Greenfield (University at Buffalo) @KarlynM – Karlyn Morissette (.eduGuru) @mikepetroff – Mike Petroff (Emerson College) @sethodell – Seth Odell (UCLA) @LoriPA – Lori Packer (University of Rochester) @mrichwalsky – Mike Richwalsky (John Carroll University) Follow These People: @tsand – Todd Sanders (University of Wisconsin – Green Bay) @rachelreuben – Rachel Reuben (Ithaca College) @MalloryWood – Mallory Wood (St. Michael’s College) @TimNekritz – Tim Nekritz (SUNY Oswego) @dmolsen – Dave Olsen (West Virginia University) @coachfern – Paul Redfern (Gettysburg College) @karinejoly – Karine Joly (CollegeWebEditor.com) @robin2go – Robin Bradford Smail (Penn State University)
A lot of schools want Twitter to be
social, but sometimes, people just want your news in their feed.
Do you have information-focused Twitter profiles created specifically for certain audiences? Feel free to get creative. Consider a Twitter feed for orienting freshmen or tweeting intern opportunities. The dining services department at Tufts University even has its own Twitter profile that lets students know what’s on the menu for the day. When the semester starts, let your students know which campus Twitter profiles they might benefit most from following. For those outside your campus, Twitter can be a great place to learn about what today’s students are accomplishing. “For us, Twitter has become a great way to give a bigger voice to current students on campus. We mainly use it to speak to our school’s community rather than marketing ourselves,” said Emerson College Web Manager Mike Petroff. 5
5. Personal Enrichment
Instead of getting discouraged when you’re not getting the interaction you’re looking for on your school’s Twitter accounts, start tweeting through your personal account. What many Web practitioners in higher education miss when they look at Twitter is its power as a professional enrichment tool. For many in the social media world, Twitter has become the place for sharing links to industry news, contributing to the latest discussions and reading the opinions of leaders in their field. “People in my office see Twitter open on my desktop and ask me what I’m doing,” said Lori Packer. “I always say I learn something on Twitter every day that helps me do my job better. Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s not useful. “Sometimes, I get more out of the discussion around the article than the article itself. I get to listen to smart people who do what I do discuss topics that apply to my job. It’s like being the ultimate fly on the wall.” It is this personal approach to news that makes Twitter so useful for those in the field. For many, in fact, Twitter has become the water cooler of 2011. Even if nobody else at your school does your job or gets social media, you’ll be able to bounce ideas off friends, talk about the day’s news and ask nagging questions through Twitter. Twitter is becoming so good at professional development that, for many, it now serves as a substitute for industry conferences. Every year, there seems to be a growing number of conferences and seminars for Web professionals in higher education. Time and budget constraints make it impossible to attend all of them, and it can become frustrating to miss a session or guest speaker that has helpful information.
@ninjarunner – Neil Bearse (Queen’s School of Business) @EricStoller – Eric Stoller (Student Affairs Live) @higheredlive – Higher Ed Live (HigherEdLive.com) @chronicle – The Chronicle of Higher Education (Chronicle.com) @eduguru – .eduGuru (.eduGuru.com) @SMDistillery – SM Distillery (TheSocialMediaDistillery. com) @minethatdata – Kevin Hillstrom (MineThatData.com) @erictpeterson – Eric Peterson (Web Analytics Demystified) @johnlovett – John Lovett (Web Analytics Demystified) @joestanhope – Joe Stanhope (Forrester Research) @unmarketing – Scott Stratten (UnMarketing) @boazronkin – Boaz Ronkin (Baynote) Follow Us: @fathomseo – Fathom Online Marketing (fathomonlinemarketing.com)
Many professionals have started saving Twitter searches for hashtags of conferences and sessions that they can’t attend in person. They often find the conversation surrounding the conference to be just as helpful as the content of the speakers’ presentations. Even if you are able to attend a conference in person, you’ll find Twitter immensely helpful. “The presence of social media has created a whole different experience at conferences,” said Lori Packer. “At conferences I attend, I meet a dozen people in real life that I already know on Twitter and meet a bunch more that I start following after I leave. It’s a huge benefit to turn an annual meeting into a year-long community.” 6
Twitter’s ease of use is one of the main reasons it has become such a valuable social media tool. It doesn’t require expensive software, technical expertise or hours of preparation. The only thing that needs to happen for your school to find success on Twitter is for you to start doing it. Take one or two tips from this white paper and try them for one month. Have an event coming up? Live stream it. Are you finding an apathetic attitude toward social media on your campus? Take it upon yourself to stir excitement about Twitter’s potential. If you embrace Twitter, you willquickly discover all the opportunities it presents. Before social media can take off at your school, it needs a cheerleader. Are you ready to take ownership?
About Fathom Online Marketing
Fathom is a leading Internet marketing firm located in Valley View, Ohio, specializing in organic search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, online public relations, opt-in email marketing, and Internet video production and marketing. Fathom works with clients in a number of industries, from healthcare and education to retail and manufacturing. Read the first two white papers in our series on social media in higher education: Overarching Social Media Strategy Facebook in Higher Education
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